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Missouri's Drinkwitz wanted to award walk-ons after opt-outs; NCAA said no

Missouri hasn't played a game this month, and it's only gotten in five games midway through its first season under new coach Eli Drinkwitz.

The Tigers (3-2 SEC) are set to visit South Carolina on Saturday, but Drinkwitz admits between COVID-19 contact tracing and player opt-outs, the Tigers are perilously close to the 53-man minimum for SEC competition.

“All I know is I've got 54 scholarship players who can practice or are available to show up to practice or have the potential to practice based off they've not been declared out this week,” Drinkwitz said Wednesday on the SEC coaches' teleconference.

Earlier in the call, Drinkwitz addressed the program's latest departure, Dominic Gicinto, after Gicinto informed Drinkwitz on Tuesday of his desire to exit Missouri.

Gicinto is the seventh Tigers player to enter the NCAA Transfer Portal since August.

“Dom came in after practice (Tuesday) and felt like he wanted to find a better offensive fit and a better cultural fit,” Drinkwitz said. “Obviously we weren't here to recruit him. We're different than what they've been used to or were recruited to. It's all about trying to find the right fit. We wish him well and absolutely all the best to him as he's moving forward.”

But Gicinto had been calculated as part of the Tigers' available scholarship roster members at the beginning of the week, Drinkwitz said.

Missouri's coach also said the Tigers are stopped by the NCAA from awarding scholarships to potentially deserving members of the scout team, a move that has been getting more attention this season due to initial COVID-19 player opt-outs and more recently players opting out to focus on next year's NFL Draft.

Drinkwitz said it isn't possible for the Tigers to grant any scholarships in-season; it's a similar issue to what Arkansas is doing as it waits to put walk-on defensive back Hudson Clark on scholarship in January following his three-interception game in a win against Ole Miss earlier this season.

“Yeah, in August we have to certify our roster and once you certify the scholarship players, that number is taken until the semester of their graduation or the semester of their transferring, something like that,” Drinkwitz said. “The soonest we would be able to reward anybody with a scholarship would be in January. Which is kind of sad. I think some of us had petitioned for opt-outs to try to replace some of these guys, some of these walk-ons and give those guys scholarships.

“That wasn't something the NCAA was willing to do, which obviously leads to where you are with your 53 numbers and all that stuff. Not anything that anybody could foresee but now we're in the middle of it and it's just what you're dealing with.”